SOAPBOX

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HAUNTED

By Mike Hembury

I guess it’s that time of year.

When the nights close in and the summer is finally dying.

When the trees turn to gold and yellow and the air is heavy with decay, and there’s a chill to the air in the mornings and you know you have to make the most of the good weather while it lasts because tomorrow, like, with a snap of your fingers, it might be gone.

It’s a time for ghosts, right enough.

I took a walk at the weekend. Up through the old cemetery, between the new mosque and the old airport.

It’s a nice graveyard. Peaceful. I like the way there’s a corner for the Muslim graves. No fuss, no signs. You’re just walking through and then all of the gravestones have Turkish names. They don’t even look any different. Not too many crosses in this graveyard anyway.

I like the idea of equality in death.

Of course, equality in life would be a lot better. But that’s not where I’m going with this.

I just needed the graveyard to bring me down to earth. To connect me with a few ghosts, even if they’re not mine. Or I’m not theirs.

You don’t own ghosts.

They own you.

No shortage of ghosts here in Berlin.

We’re coming up to 9th November. Not just the day that the Berlin wall came down. It’s also the anniversary of Reichskristallnacht. The day state-sanctioned pogroms started against Jews in Germany. They called it the “crystal night” because of all the shards and fragments of glass in the streets from the shattered windows of synagogues and Jewish shops and businesses. Of course, it wasn’t even the start of the persecution. Just the start of things getting seriously worse. People couldn’t know for sure about the turn events were taking, but I guess that night, that 9th November 1938, they had a pretty good idea.

The German antifascist opposition—the biggest, most disciplined labour movement organization anywhere in the world outside of the Soviet Union—had been smashed, slaughtered, rounded up and interned years before. Now all that was left was a terrorized population, and the fascists, and their indoctrinated race-war killers.

It was the beginning of the end.

In fact, for all their discipline and organization, the German antifascist forces didn’t even make it out onto the streets when the Nazis came to power. Their leaders hesitated, and worried about the legality of mobilizing their members, and missed their chance. By contrast, when Franco putsched in Spain in 1936, the Spanish antifascists—and the anarchists in particular—didn’t wait for an order from their high command before mobilizing. They came out on the street, and challenged the fascists with all that they had. They gave it their best shot. They defeated the fascists and implemented revolutionary change in large parts of the country.

And even though they ultimately went down, after a couple of years of civil war, theirs remains a model of resistance for us all.

So many ghosts.

If you’re ever in Berlin, go to the Holocaust Memorial, which is in the middle of the city, between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. It’s an area the size of a football field, made up of over two thousand concrete slabs, some over 15 feet tall. The slabs are set out in a grid, but it feels like a labyrinth. Go and stand in the middle, down among the concrete blocks that look like gravestones, and get yourself acquainted with the ghosts of Berlin. Say hello to the victims of the killing fields—and towns, and cities—of Europe. Breathe in what fascism brought: 6 million dead Jews, 25 million dead Russians. Over 50 million civilian casualties.

In Berlin they are still digging up bombs from the carpet bombing that flattened the city and helped bring an end to fascism.

A temporary end, it would now appear.

A couple of weeks ago, German elections resulted in a neo-Nazi party entering parliament with 12 percent of the vote, translating into 90 seats.

Of course, nobody in the Alternative für Deutschland is going to admit to it being a neo-Nazi party. Their campaign material was resolutely middle of the road, even attempting to be humorous. But it’s an open secret.

In Austria, a neo-Nazi party came in second at last weekend’s elections.

In France, the Front National came a close second for the presidency.

None of these people wear jackboots, Nazi uniforms, swastikas. At least not in public. But they’re the suit-and-tie faction, the mainstream-media-compatible face of the movement. They’re the ones paving the way for the streetfighters and terrorists and white supremacists.

1945 gave us a new beginning.

That beginning just came to an end.

We’re now in a situation where well-established neo-fascist movements around the world are challenging the bourgeois status quo from a position of relative power. And where they are using existing “free speech” laws to gain publicity, and airtime, and new followers.

The way I see it, promoting genocide, extreme racism and hate crime is not a question of free speech.

It’s a crime, pure and simple.

But more than that, it is an existential challenge to all of us. A challenge we need to confront with all that we’ve got.

It’s not something the police are going to take care of. It’s not something the state is going to deal with for us.

It’s something that the organizations of the oppressed need to unite to confront.

But you don’t need to believe me. You don’t need to take my word for it.

Just ask any ghost you happen to know.

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  You can follow Mike on Twitter here: twitter.com/schnappz

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